This weekend marks thirty years since the debut of the BAFTA award-winning comedy series Blackadder the Third. For those not familiar with this franchise written by Richard Curtis (of Love Actually and The Vicar of Dibley fame) and Ben Elton (The Young Ones and Upstart Crow), the series chronicles the frequent misadventures of four generations of Blackadders, a British family dynasty that finds itself in the thick of events at many significant periods and places in British history.
As the generations progress, each Blackadder (portrayed by Rowan Atkinson) advances in intelligence and shrewdness while the family's social status systematically dwindles. What remains constant is that all the Blackadders are cynical, self-absorbed opportunists.
Blackadder the Third is set during the late 18th and early 19th centuries, approximately during the reign of George III. Mr. Edmund Blackadder, Esquire holds the unfortunate position of being the head butler to the Prince of Wales (Hugh Laurie), a vain, spoiled twit. As always, Edmund’s subordinate Baldrick (Tony Robinson) is on hand to suffer the verbal and physical abuse of a frustrated disdainful master. In short, Blackadder is trapped in a situation he can’t escape with idiots he can barely abide.
I’m a fan of the entire series, but after binge watching the six episodes of Blackadder the Third, I am reminded that this chapter is full of some particularly funny characters and hilarious bits. I've compiled a handful for your consideration.
Episode 1: 'Dish and Dishonesty'
This scene highlights the prevalence of rotten boroughs and unfair voting practices of the time while placing it in the context of modern election coverage in the UK. The commentator, Vincent Hanna, was an actual television journalist famed for his coverage of British by-elections.
Episode 2: 'Ink and Incapability'
Robbie Coltrane makes a guest appearance as Dr. Samuel Johnson, author of first English dictionary. Blackadder can’t help messing with the boastful literary celebrity, effectively beating him at his own game.
Episode 3: 'Nob and Nobility'
This episode visits the circumstances surrounding the flight of aristocrats from France during the revolution and the popular legend of the Scarlett Pimpernel. Nigel Planer of The Young Ones plays one of the upper-class fops who foolishly attempts to rescue Blackadder and Baldrick from the guillotine.
Episode 4: 'Sense and Senility'
In this memorable scene, a belittled Blackadder torments a pair of haughty thespians (Hugh Paddick and Kenneth Connor) who have been hired to provide elocution lessons to the Prince. You’ll be chanting "Hot potato, orchestra stalls, Puck will make amends!" all day after this bit.
Episode 5: 'Amy and Amiability'
The Prince is in dire financial straits (again) and Blackadder must find his boss a bride of means. Miranda Richardson guest stars as the infantile Amy Hardwood, the daughter of a Northern industrialist, who conceals a very different identity.
Episode 6: 'Duel and Duality'
In this final episode of the series, the Prince Regent has sullied the reputations of the nieces of the Duke of Wellington (Stephen Fry). The military hero subsequently challenges the young monarch to a duel. In an unusual turn of events, one of Baldrick’s cunning plans actually has a bit of merit. If only Edumund’s identical cousin MacAdder would go along with the scheme.
If you want to experience more questionably historical hilarity, you can find the Blackadder series in its entirety on Hulu or Amazon Prime. For those who are already Blackadder fans, please share your favorite characters, moments or quotes in the comments below.